Exploring Chinese History
- Chinese Lunar Calendar -

Components of the Calendar

Stems and Branches

Each 60- year cycle is governed by the Ten Celestial Stems, the Twelve Terrestrial Branches, the Yin and Yang of the Five Basic Elements and the Twelve Lunar Animals.

The Stems each correspond to a yin (+) or yang (-) of one of the five Elements; each of the Branches correspond to an Animal.

In the first year of a 60- year cycle, the first of the Ten Stems (jia) is paired with the first of the Twelve Branches (zi) and the yin of the first of the Five Elements (wood+) is paired with the first of the Twelve Animals (rat).  Thus you have a jia-zi, wood-rat year, or more simply, shu nian (Year of the Rat).

The second year, the second of the Ten Stems (yi) is paired with the second of the Twelve Branches (chou) and the yang of the first of the Five Elements (wood-) is paired with the second of the Twelve Animals (ox).  Thus you have a yi-chou, wood-ox year, or more simply, niu nian (Year of the Ox).

The reason for a 60- year cycle is to allow each combination to occur once.  When the combinations run their course, the next 60- year cycle begins.

Each year is ruled by a stem, branch, animal and element and governed by the pairing, which continues onward. When the next jia-zi, wood-rat year comes around, a new 60- year cycle begins, since the smallest common divisor of 10 (stems and elements) and 12 (branches and animals) is 60.

The chart below pairs the Celestial Stem with the corresponding Basic Element:
Ten Celestial Stems

shí tiāngān
The Five Basic Elements

wǔ xíng
1 jiǎ wood+ mù
2 yǐ wood- mù
3 bǐng fire+ huǒ
4 dīng fire- huǒ
5 wù earth+ tǔ
6 jǐ earth- tǔ
7 gēng metal+ jīn
8 xīn metal- jīn
9 rén water+ shuǐ
10 guǐ water- shuǐ


The chart below pairs the Earthly Branch with the corresponding Animal:
Twelve Terrestrial Branches

shíèr dìzhī
The Twelve Lunar Animals

shíèr zī
1 zi Rat shu
2 chou Ox niu
3 yin Tiger hu
4 mao Rabbit tu
5 chen Dragon long
6 si Snake she
7 wu Horse ma
8 wei Sheep yang
9 shen Monkey hou
10 you Rooster ji
11 xu Dog quan
12 hai Pig zhu


The chart below reflects the Ten Celestial and Twelve Terrestrial year types over the course of one 60- year cycle:
1 甲子 2 乙丑 3 丙寅 4 丁卯 5 戊辰 6 己巳 7 庚午 8 辛未 9 壬申 10 癸酉
11 甲戌 12 乙亥 13 丙子 14 丁丑 15 戊寅 16 己卯 17 庚辰 18 辛巳 19 壬午 20 癸未
21 甲申 22 乙酉 23 丙戌 24 丁亥 25 戊子 26 己丑 27 庚寅 28 辛卯 29 壬辰 30 癸巳
31 甲午 32 乙未 33 丙申 34 丁酉 35 戊戌 36 己亥 37 庚子 38 辛丑 39 壬寅 40 癸卯
41 甲辰 42 乙巳 43 丙午 44 丁未 45 戊申 46 己酉 47 庚戌 48 辛亥 49 壬子 50 癸丑
51 甲寅 52 乙卯 53 丙辰 54 丁巳 55 戊午 56 己未 57 庚申 58 辛酉 59 壬戌 60 癸亥

It is quite common to see the Celestial Stem substituted for the Basic Element and the Terrestrial Branch substituted for the Lunar Animal; or they may be seen together on some charts and objects.


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